Employees should be safe while on the job; that includes healthy air quality. Although laws and policies exist to protect workers, problems with air quality on the job are often overlooked. Breathing unhealthy air at work can be dangerous, but it's also preventable.
Do you have health symptoms such as headaches, sneezing or coughing that improve when you leave the building? Do they return when you come back into the building? If so, you may have an indoor air pollution problem and should explore the following potential sources.
- Are there machines indoors that could be emitting odors, particles or chemicals, including copiers or printers?
- Are there chemicals used in the work that emit odors, particles or gases? Are the emissions properly controlled and/or exhausted to the outside?
- Have you recently remodeled or added new furniture, carpeting or painted?
- Has anyone brought in materials or products that give off odors, gases or particles, such as sprays, perfumes or fragrances?
- Has kitchen or food garbage been removed?
- Are there outside sources of odors or chemicals coming indoors, such as vehicle exhaust, roofing materials or dust from construction?
- Are heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems working properly and well-maintained? Are they sized properly for the space? Are vents or grilles blocked?
- Is anyone smoking indoors? No one should smoke indoors.
- Are there leaks or standing water anywhere?
The key to preventing problems in the indoor air at work are these steps. They take time to work through, but they are core to healthy indoor air.
1. Identify the source(s) of the problem.
Many sources of indoor air pollution can be removed or kept out of the workspace once identified. However, several sources may combine to become a more serious problem together than they are separately. Are some rooms worse than others or is the problem occur more frequently when some activity occurs?
2. Remove the source of the problem.
Depending on the source, this can be easy (for example, remove the garbage) or may take more work (for example, switch cleaning chemicals). Make sure the workplace is 100 percent tobacco-free. Clean damaged or dirty materials. Remove and replace any materials that have been moisture-damaged or that are too soiled to be adequately cleaned.
3. Make sure the ventilation system is working correctly and that air flow is not blocked.
Inadequate ventilation is one of the most common causes of problems with indoor air in a workplace.
Whether you work in an office, a factory, a hospital or a small business you may be exposed to sources of indoor air pollution that are potentially hazardous to your health. Learn more about what you and your employer can do to protect yourself.
Page last updated: November 17, 2022